8 Secrets to a Higher Car Trade-In Value

By Paul Michael on 15 November 2016 0 comments

Not many of us relish the idea of spending time haggling over the price of a car. When it comes to your trade-in, it's the classic battle of wills; you want as much as possible for it, and the dealer wants to give you as little as they can. How do you win? What does it take to squeeze the most money out of the car you're handing over? Here's what you need to know, and do.

1. Never Mention Your Trade-In

The biggest mistake people make when they buy a new car is letting the salesperson know about their trade-in. It's one of the first things you'll be asked, too. "So, what are you planning to trade-in today?" is thrown your way, and most of us automatically point to the car we're in, or mention it in some other way. Before you know it, the dealer is looking around your car, umming and ahhing, and writing all sorts of things down.

But what he or she is actually doing is figuring out how to deal with your trade-in and the new car as a package deal. When the paperwork comes out, it can suddenly get very confusing, and the price of your trade-in can fluctuate as the salesperson tries to get you to pay as much as possible for the new car, while giving you as little as they can for your trade.

So, don't mention it. Don't even acknowledge it. Simply say that you want to negotiate the price of the new car, and only when that has been set in stone should you bring up the trade. That way, you know exactly what you're paying for the new car, and just what you're getting back from the trade-in.

2. Know the Going Rate for Your Car

This is not the 1970s. You have a wealth of information available at your fingertips (quite literally with smartphones) and you can arm yourself with every piece of financial data that will help your case. Dig around. Find out what your exact year, make, and model is going for, accounting for the mileage and condition. If you see that the average price for your trade-in (not private sale) is $7,200, and the dealer offers you $5,600, then you know you're being lowballed.

Have the evidence with you. Use sites like KBB, NADA and Search Tempest. Bring printouts that you can show, highlighting the sales that support your asking price. But, be realistic, too. If sales of your particular make and model are sluggish (which happened to gas-guzzling vehicles when the price of gas skyrocketed), you can't expect the dealer to pay top dollar for something that will spend months on the lot.

3. Get Your Car Detailed

Whether you put the time in yourself, or pay a professional to do it, you must get your vehicle detailed before showing up at the dealership. At the very least, running it through a car wash can add several hundred dollars to the value. However, the cleaner and fresher you can make the car, inside and out, the more you will get for it. So do a thorough job, which includes cleaning and polishing the wheels and adding tire shine, cleaning all the windows, shining the leather or vinyl, removing any stains from fabric, shampooing the mats and carpet, and even spraying a little "new car smell" aerosol inside. Make it look as new as possible.

4. Fix What Can Be Fixed

This can be a tough call. If your car needs thousands of dollars in repairs, but doing them all puts you in the red based on the trade-in value, then don't do it. You have to recoup more than your investment. But if a few small items can be fixed at minimal cost, go ahead and get them done. Superficial things like broken wipers or missing valve stem caps make the car look like it wasn't cared for. Definitely change broken lights, including any in the cabin or trunk, and do what you can to mend tears and scrapes.

5. Get Rid of Any Dents, Dings, Scratches, and Holes

The bodywork on a car is the first thing anyone notices. Even if the car is in superb shape mechanically, the sight of scrapes, dents, and rust holes is incredibly off-putting to a buyer, and the dealership knows this. They will have to get all of that fixed, and so they will offer you less than the car is worth. However, it can be very affordable to get bodywork spruced up, and there are also tools available, starting at as little as $10, that can bring out dents and smaller scratches. When you're done with all that, a few coats of wax buffed to a high shine will really help boost the price.

6. Choose the Right Time of Year

For some cars, it may not make much of a difference. But on 4x4s, AWDs, convertibles, sports cars, and gas-guzzlers, when you choose to trade it in can have a huge impact on the price you'll get for it. For instance, when the winter months hit, there is much greater demand for used 4x4 and AWD vehicles. When there is greater demand, the prices go up, and as such, the price you will get can also go up. In the summer, the demand is not as great, so prices drop. Conversely, sports cars and convertibles are much more desirable when the sun is shining and the roads are dry. You will get more money for those cars if you sell them in summer. By the time winter comes around, the benefits of those cars are hampered by the weather.

7. Bring as Much Documentation as Possible

Cars are a lot like works of art; the more history you have on them, the more they're worth. In the art world, that's called provenance. With vehicles, it's things like service repair bills, oil changes, upgrades, and anything else that accurately documents how you have taken care of the car. It's all very well to say "Oh yeah, this car has been cared for like royalty" but without proof, it's not going to go very far. With a detailed service history or logbook, you offer proof of the car's history. That gives the dealer a selling point, and it means the car can fetch a higher price.

8. Come With Offers From Other Dealerships

Nothing motivates a salesperson to negotiate quite like the threat of going somewhere else. So, before you step foot on a lot, use the Internet and your phone to get quotes from other dealerships. You may have to take the car to them to get an accurate appraisal. When you have four or five offers in hand, use them to haggle and raise the offer price. When you have the best one you think you can get, go to the dealership that has the new car you want, armed with the offer from their rival. If they say the car is worth $3,500, and you have an offer of $4,200 from the dealership down the road, they will quickly re-asses their own offer.

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